This weeks’ Champions League roundup sees three Italian sides through the knockout stages but perhaps not exactly the teams you’d expected. Inter went into the game against Barcelona knowing that only a win would aid them in their attempts to progress, but a weakened Spanish eleven offered no solace to the Nerazzurri’s hopes of European qualification.
Two infinite minutes. That’s how long it took for the referee to check Alejandro Gomez’s position on a pass by Robin Gosens, before ruling that El Papu was not in offside when he served Timothy Castagne an assist for the goal that propelled Atalanta into history. La Dea qualified to the Champions League knockout stage after trailing Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0.
After a valiant performance at Anfield where Ancelotti’s men held on for a hard earned point, Napoli secured their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League in emphatic style at home to Genk. Hours later Carlo Ancelotti was out of a job, his dismissal immediately overshadowed by President Aurelio De Laurentiis’ swift appointment of Gennaro Gattuso.
In Champions League Round 5, Juventus beat Atletico Madrid to cement their place in the knockout rounds, while Inter grabbed the win they needed to remain in contention for qualification. Atalanta dispatched of Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, whereas Liverpool and Napoli settled for one point which still leaves the Partenopei with hope of snatching top spot.
The story of Napoli this season so far has been somewhat intriguing and difficult to comprehend. In Serie A, they are currently 7th in the table, unable to win against sides battling for survival. In Champions League, however, they are a different team, as they showed on Wednesday by going tooth and nail against defending European Champions Liverpool.
Carlo Ancelotti’s experience in Napoli may be set to end abruptly as the events following his players’ mutiny against president Aurelio De Laurentiis continue to unfold. Dark clouds gathered over the Azzurri roster last night as captain Lorenzo Insigne and his teammates refused to remain at a training retreat imposed by the club after tying 1-1 against Red Bull Salzburg.
For almost one hour, Inter lived the dream of breaking the curse of the Camp Nou, then Luis Suarez’s brilliant double plummeted them into a recurring nightmare. Inter’s second Champions League match in Group F ended 2-1 for the Blaugrana despite Lautaro Martinez’s opener after two minutes. It was the first goal for the Nerazzurri in Barcelona’s den in 50 years.
Seven is a charm for Jurgen Klopp. The German coach finally clinched a European Cup title leading Liverpool to a 2-0 win over Tottenham to conquer the Champions League 2018-19, and breaking a curse made of six international Final losses. Liverpool took a rapid lead with a penalty by Mohammed Salah, and controlled the game until Divock Origi’s late goal.
Maurizio Sarri came, saw, and won. The former Napoli coach led Chelsea to their first Europa League title, seeing off Arsenal in the Final in Baku with a storming second half. Eden Hazard scored a brace in what was likely his last match with the Blues, and goals by Jean Giroud and Pedro Rodriguez wrapped a comfortable 4-1 success against Unai Emery’s side.
It happened again. Yet another last minute comeback, to further embellish a Champions League edition that could arguably end up being the most exciting ever. This time, it was Tottenham’s turn to pull out the most incredible of victories, stunning Ajax with a shocking 2-3 late win that projected them straight into their first Champions League Final in their history.
Mohammed Salah’s t-shirt was prophetical. “Never Give Up,” it read. Liverpool wrote another page of a history made of impossible comebacks as they trashed Barcelona to reach the Champions League Final once again. The scorecard at Anfield Road read 4-0 at full time, an outcome that completely overturned what happened at the Camp Nou one week ago.
Ajax don’t want to stop. The white-and-red won 1-0 in London over Tottenham, and can now legitimately aim at reaching the Champions League Final for the first time in 23 years. A lone goal by midfielder Donny van de Beek stunned the Tottenham Stadium and the Semifinal debuting Spurs to secure his side a strong advantage in view of next Wednesday’s second leg.